Advice | Locals | New to Austin

How to Recycle in Austin | What Is Recyclable and What Is Not

Read time: 6 minutes

The City of Austin established a one-bin recycling system which keeps all recyclable material together versus sorting it into separate glass-only or plastic-only bins. The new system has made it easier for Austinites, freeing them from having to maintain separate bins, but harder for trash collectors since it’s now difficult for them to find recycling mistakes. To offset trash collectors’ time and tax dollars, city officials decided to throw away recycled material that isn’t sorted properly. Now recycled items aren’t sorted through if you made a recycling mistake, and the solution is to throw out the recycled items with the trash, throwing all of your efforts with it. So make sure you are recycling the proper items by checking out our list!

What Can Go in Your Recycling Bin


  • Water, soda, and juice bottles
  • Milk jugs and milk crates
  • Liquid containers (make sure all the liquid is cleaned out)
  • Jars and tubs (margarine tubs, yogurt containers, etc.)
  • Detergent and all-purpose cleaner bottles
  • Soap, shampoo, and conditioner bottles
  • Empty medicine bottles
  • Plastic buckets, tubs, and baskets (laundry baskets, etc.)
  • Plastic disposable plates, cups, and utensils (check for recycling number on the bottom and make sure they are not full of grease and wash)
  • Plastic takeout containers (make sure they are not styrofoam or full of grease)
  • Lawn chairs
  • Pet carriers
  • Toys without batteries (check for recycling number on the bottom)
  • Totes and lids
  • Tubs
  • Flower pots and trays
  • Dish drainers
  • Trash cans
  • Plastics with recycling numbers #1 – #7 (you can’t recycle plastic bottles with motor oil, pesticides, herbicides, adhesives, paints, or solvents)
  • Plastic bottle caps (metal caps can be recycled with them as well)


  • Rinsed glass bottles and jars (labels can be left on containers)


  • Aluminum foil (cleaned and balled 2 inches or larger)
  • Aluminum foil baking pans, pie plates, tins, trays (clean)
  • Aluminum, tin, and steel cans (soda cans, food cans, etc.)
  • Metal lids or caps from glass jars


  • Glossy and matte paper
  • Envelopes
  • Phone books
  • Junk mail
  • Greeting cards
  • Catalogs
  • Newspapers
  • Coupons (no product samples)
  • Posters
  • Home office paper
  • File folders
  • Paper ream wrappers
  • Sticky notes
  • Paper bags (no gift bags)
  • Wrapping paper (non-foil, no ribbons or bows)
  • Magazines
  • Shredded paper (placed in a paper bag)

Cardboard and Boxboard

  • Corrugated cardboard and boxboard boxes
  • Shoe boxes
  • Gift boxes
  • Soda/beverage boxes
  • Food boxes (cereal boxes, microwave meals, boxes of rice, etc.)
  • Paper towel and toilet paper rolls

Other Materials

For more resources on what you can and cannot recycle in Austin, check the City of Austin’s website directory for recyclable items.

Plastics Recycling Guidelines

  • Remove metal components from plastic items
  • Empty and rinse items before recycling them
  • Make sure all items fit inside the blue recycling cart with the lid closed
  • Only hard plastics are accepted; plastic foam, plastic bags, and plastic wrap are not allowed

What Can’t Go in Your Recycling Bin

Unrecyclable Plastic

  • Plastic bags, films, and packaging (can be recycled at the front of grocery stores like HEB, Central Market, Randalls, Whole Foods, and Wal-Mart)
  • Ziplock baggies
  • Trash bags
  • Strings of lights and other long, flexible materials (find a recycle and reuse drop off center)
  • Garden hoses (find a local organization that will reuse or recycle)
  • Dry cleaning bags (can be recycled only at participating dry cleaners)
  • Plastic foam (cups, egg cartons, take-out containers)
  • Styrofoam peanuts (can be taken to any UPS or Pack Mail shipping stores)
  • Motor oil bottles
  • Garden hoses
  • Syringes
  • PVC pipes
  • CD/DVD cases (take them to the Resource Recovery Center or Recycled Reads)
  • Large plastics that do not fit in the blue recycling cart with lid closed
  • Medical waste (e.g. syringes and sharp containers)

Unrecyclable Glass

  • Broken glass (when throwing away broken glass, make sure it is properly packaged and labeled before being put in the garbage)
  • Light bulbs
  • Mirrors
  • Window panes
  • Dishes and cups
  • Ornaments and decorations

Unrecyclable Metal

  • Helium containers and tanks
  • Paint and solvent containers
  • Scrap metal (nails, screws, gutters, etc.)
  • Large metal items (such as frying pans and metal pipes)
  • Coat hangers (will be accepted by most dry cleaners)

Unrecyclable Paper

  • Pizza boxes
  • Wet, soiled or food-stained paper of any kind (paper towels, toilet tissue, facial tissue, paper plates, and cups)

Other Unrecyclable Materials

  • Fabric, clothing, and textiles (Donate your clothes or find a reuse or recycle drop off center)
  • Trash (you may be charged for extra trash if you put trash in your recycling bin)
  • Electronics
  • Food waste
  • Yard trimmings/leaves (set out for yard trimmings pick up)

Why Can’t They Take These Items?

The two local recycling processing facilities use automated systems to sort and bale the recyclables. Prohibited items will jam or damage automated machinery.

Items Accepted at the Household Hazardous Waste Facility

  • Fluorescent bulbs
  • Batteries (car and household)
  • Cell phones
  • Cleaners
  • Automotive fluids
  • Oil Filters
  • Paint and thinners
  • Pesticides and herbicides
  • Photographic chemicals
  • Mercury
  • Aerosol cans
  • Pool chemicals
  • Cooking oil
  • Motor oil
  • Outdoor grill propane tanks

Holiday Tree Recycling

When the holidays are over, many residents are left with the question of how to dispose of their Christmas tree properly. Fortunately, the City of Austin has a tree recycling program that keeps nearly 20,000 trees out of area landfills each year. City of Austin curbside customers can recycle their trees by simply leaving them at the curb on their regularly scheduled collection day. Before recycling, please remember to:

  • Remove all decorations from your tree
  • Remove your tree from its stand
  • Set out your tree by 6:30 AM on your trash and yard trimmings collection day
  • Cut your tree in half if it exceeds more than 6′ in length

For more information on how to recycle your Christmas trees, check out our Guide to Christmas Tree Recycling.

What do the numbered triangle symbols on plastics mean?

  • Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE) or (PET): soft drink and water bottles, beer bottles, mouthwash bottles, peanut butter, and salad dressing containers. It can be recycled into polar fleece clothing, fiber, tote bags, bottles, clothing, furniture, and carpet.
  • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): milk jugs, water, and juice containers, liquid detergent bottles, yogurt, and margarine tubs. It can be recycled into liquid laundry detergent containers, drainage pipe, oil bottles, recycling bins, benches, pens, doghouses, vitamin bottles, floor tile, picnic tables, lumber, mailbox posts, fencing.
  • Vinyl (Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC): clear food packaging, shampoo bottles.
  • Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE): squeezable bottles (e.g. honey, mustard).
  • Polypropylene (PP): ketchup bottles, yogurt containers, margarine tubs, and medicine bottles.
  • Polystyrene (PS): aspirin bottles, cups, plates.
  • Other: Use of this code indicates that the package in question is made with a resin other than the six listed above, or is made of more than one resin used in combination. Plastics such as three and five gallon reusable water bottles, some citrus juice and ketchup bottles, clear baby food containers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can styrofoam be recycled?

Styrofoam is not recyclable because it would break into very small pieces in the collection truck before it reaches the sorting facility. Once it is broken into small pieces, it’s nearly impossible to contain and sort into recycling. Drop-off locations are the best recycling option for this material.

Can you recycle pizza boxes, chip bags, pastry boxes, and meat trays?

Pizza boxes cannot be recycled! What makes parts of them non-recyclable is the grease and cheese from the pizza. So, pizza boxes that are tarnished with food, or any paper product that is stained with grease or food, are not recyclable (unless you remove the tainted portions).

Chip bags cannot be recycled! They can’t be recycled because most chip bags are made from aluminum laminated with polypropylene, which means it’s a hot plastic and aluminum hybrid mess. But companies are taking notice and incorporating eco-friendly tactics at the end of their product’s lives, like turning them into products such as clipboards, tote bag or trash cans.

Treat pastry boxes as if they were pizza boxes. Make sure that the boxes are clean of grease or tarnished food.

Meat trays can be recycled if it is completely clean of meat and has a recycling code on it. Do not put the meat tray in your recycling bin, drop it off at the Recycle & Reuse Drop- Off Center. But it’s usually safest to throw the plastic in the trash to avoid contaminating the recycling stream.

How do I properly dispose of broken glass?

The City of Austin wants broken glass to be wrapped in several layers of newspaper or sealed in a box and to label the package as “GLASS” before putting it in your trash cart. For more information, check out the City of Austin’s page.

What do I do when I don’t have any more room in my recycling bin?

If you don’t have any more room in your recycling bin, The City of Austin recommends that you place the additional items in a cardboard box or a reusable container. If you have excess cardboard, cut it or fold it into 2 feet by 2 feet piles, and tied into manageable bundles with string or twine. Place the bundles next to your recycling cart, and they will pick them up on your scheduled recycling day. For more information about recycling in Austin, check out their website.

Also, you can contact Waste Management and request a bulk pickup for your cardboard boxes. Their information is located on their website.

Where can I get a recycling bin?

Austin Resource Recovery provides bundled services to manage your trash, recycling, and yard trimmings. Costs are based on your trash cart size. They offer four trash cart sizes, and you choose the size that best fits your household’s needs. You can visit their website to find additional information or call 512-494-9400.


According to, there are two types of receipts. Ones made of paper and ones made of Bisphenol A (BPA). Paper receipts can be recycled, but receipts that are laced with BPA cannot be since it’s a hazardous plastic. If you are confident enough to figure out which receipts are paper vs. plastic, go ahead and recycle the paper receipts. If you aren’t, take the time to see if the City of Austin has any take-back programs for receipts. In the end, the best way to recycle receipts is to not have any at all! Go paperless, and opt to receive an e-receipt the next time you go shopping!


According to, plastic straws can be recycled, but because plastic straws are small, thin, and bend easily, they can easily fall into the cracks and crevices of recycling machinery. Because of this, most recyclers do not accept plastic straws.

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